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Talk:Jacques Lacan:Biography

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In 1963 he had finally broken with the psychoanalytic establishment and founded his own school, seminar XI was in a sense the first public statement of his new direction. In 1953 a group of analysts, including Lacan, had left the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP) over the issue of training and the medicalization of psychoanalysis and went on to form the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). What these analysts did not realize at the time was that by leaving the 'official' society they were also leaving the International Psycho-Analytical Association (IPA). For the next ten years the SFP held negotiations with the IPA to gain recognition of their new society, without which they could not call themselves psychoanalysts and practise. In 1963 the IPA finally rejected the SFP request for readmission and Lacan, among others, was expelled from the IPA. In the same year the SFP split and Lacan founded his own school of psychoanalysis, the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP). As a result of his break with the SFP Lacan was forced to move his seminar from Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital and, at the invitation of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-90), who in that year published an important essay on Freud and Lacan, he transferred the seminar to the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). The ENS is one of the elite institutions of the French educational system and it brought Lacan a whole new audience for his work. This was also a time, partly as a result of Althusser's article, when psychoanalysis began to spread and become more accepted among Parisian intellectuals and cultural life. The move, therefore, raised a number of theoretical problems for Lacan. For the previous ten years his seminar had been devoted to the close reading and explication of Freud and had been directed at clinicians and practitioners of psychoanalysis. Now he was addressing an audience that included students, political activists, philosophers, writers and cultural practitioners. How, then, was he to remain true to what he saw as the radicalism of psychoanalysis and at the same time teach it in a university system? In seminar XI, for the first time, Lacan moved away from an exposition of Freud's ideas to the development of his own conception of psychoanalysis. In other words, he began to develop what we would now recognize as a specifically Lacanian theory of the unconscious, of desire, of transference and of the drive (the four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis). It was also at this time that the seminars began to get more complicated and enigmatic and, as the audience of his seminar grew, to over a thousand in his final year, so did the difficulty and complexity of many of his ideas and formulations. What needs to be kept in mind, therefore, when reading Lacan, is that the question of his style and the difficulty one encounters when reading his texts is not superfluous or simply gratuitous. To become an analyst one needs to go through a very long process of training, supervision and most importantly an analysis oneself. It is not something that can be taught in the lecture hall or seminar room. To a certain extent the difficulty of Lacan's style is precisely the self-conscious desire on his part to resist any easy assimilation and recuperation of his ideas. As Lacan himself puts it in seminar XX:

It is rather well known that those Écrits cannot be read easily. I can make a little autobiographical admission - that is exactly what I thought. I thought, perhaps it goes that far, I thought they were not meant to be read. (1998 [1975]: 26)


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CHRONOLOGY OF LACAN'S LIFE Below is a brief chronology which lists some of the major events in Lacan's life. This chronology has been compiled on the basis of the information provided by Bowie (1991: 204-13), Macey (1988: ch. 7) and, above all, Roudinesco (1986, 1993). Those who are interested in more detailed information are advised to consult these three sources, as well as Forrester (1990: ch. 6), Miller (1981), and Turkle (1978). For more anecdotal accounts see Clément (1981) and Schneiderman (1983).



Biographical sketch  11

Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was born on 13 April 1901, one year after the publication of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. He was the eldest of three children. His father, Charles Marie Alfred Lacan, was the Paris sales representative for a provincial oil and soap manufacturer, and his mother, Émilie Philippine Marie Baudry, a devout Christian who assisted her husband in his work. The Lacan family lived in comfortable conditions in the Boulevard du Beaumarchais before moving to the Montparnasse area. The young Jacques attended a prestigious Jesuit school, the Collège Stanislas where he began to study philosophy, especially the work of Spinoza.

In 1919 he started his medical training in the Faculté de Médecine in Paris. From 1926 onwards he began his specialisation in psychiatry and, in the same year, he co-authored his first publication which appeared in the Revue Neurologique. Very soon he becomes interne des asiles and then, in 1932, Chef de Clinique. He worked for three years in the area of forensic medicine and, in 1932, he received his doctorate diploma in psychiatry. He published his thesis which is entitled De la psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (On Paranoid Psychosis in its Relations to the Personality). He posted a copy of his doctoral dissertation to Freud who acknowledged receipt by sending him a postcard. In the same year, his translation of Freud’s article ‘Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality’ was published in the Revue Française de Psychanalyse.

The 1930s marked the development of Lacan’s relation to the psychoanalytic and the surrealist movement. He started his training analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein who later, after moving to the United States, became one of the founding fathers and champions of Ego-Psychology. He joined the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP), the French psychoanalytic society officially recognised by the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), first, in 1934, as a candidate member, and then, in 1938, as a full member (Membre Titulaire). At the same time he became involved in the French surrealist movement. He developed a friendship with Breton and Dalí and published articles in a series of surrealist publications including the journal Minotaure. But his interest in intellectual matters did not end here. He met James Joyce and became well acquainted with the work of Jaspers and Heidegger and, of course, Hegel, by attending (together with Queneau, Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, Aron, Klossowski and others) the seminars on Hegel given by Alexandre Kojeve at the École Pratique des Hautes Études.


In 1936 he agreed to write, together with Kojeve, an article comparing Freud with Hegel which was planned to appear in the journal Recherches philosophiques with the approval of Koyré; this article was never published.

In 1934 he married Marie-Louise Blondin. Together they had three children; Caroline, born in 1934, Thibaut, in 1939, and Sibylle in 1940. Their marriage lasted until 1941. In 1939 Lacan began a relationship with Sylvia Bataille, an actress formerly married to George Bataille, and 1941 marked the birth of their daughter, Judith. He married Sylvia in 1953.

After the war, Lacan was recognised as one of the major theorists of the SPP and, as a member of its training committee, he introduced new statutes, making psychoanalytic training available to non-medical candidates. Eventually he was elected president of the SPP but this development produced a lot of controversy and a series of disagreements often focusing on Lacan’s technique (including his introduction of analytic sessions of variable duration). The controversy led to the formation, mainly by Lagache, of a new psychoanalytic society, the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). Lacan resigned from the SPP and joined the SFP in 1953. In the same year he started his public seminar (he was conducting a private seminar from 1951) at the Sainte-Anne hospital. In 1956 the SFP launched its journal; the first issue was devoted to the work of Lacan. He translated Heidegger’s paper ‘Logos’ which was published in La Psychanalyse. The influence of his friend Claude Lévi-Strauss as well as that of structural linguistics (Saussure and Jakobson) was becoming increasingly apparent in his work.

The SFP applied for recognition by the International Psychoanalytic Association but the IPA asked for the termination of Lacan’s training programme. In 1963 the SFP gave in to the demands of the IPA. Lacan was effectively forced to resign from the SFP and to stop his seminar at Saint-Anne. He was invited by Fernand Braudel to continue his seminar at the École Pratique, and, with the encouragement of Louis Althusser, he resumed his seminar in January 1964 at the École Normale Supérieure. Meanwhile, he acknowledged the importance of Foucault’s book on Madness and Civilization. He founded the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP). A 900-page collection of his essays was published under the title Écrits, boosting his reputation both in France and internationally. While in his thesis he acknowledged the importance of Claude, Pinchon and others of his teachers in psychiatry for his development, now he considered Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault as his sole master in psychiatry, pointing out that he owed to him his encounter with the Freudian corpus. He was invited, in 1966, to visit the United States where he addressed the conference on ‘The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man’ organised at the Johns Hopkins University. In 1969 a Lacanian department of Psychoanalysis was founded at the new and controversial Université de Paris VIII at Vincennes (later to be transferred to Saint-Denis).

Although Lacan was very critical of revolutionary action he was held by some as partly responsible for the events of May 1968 and was asked to leave the École Normale Supérieure. In fact, direct engagement in politics was always a problematic area in his personal life; he could be described as rather apolitical and sceptical in terms of his personal commitment to political action, although he was intrigued by political issues. This sceptical attitude brings to mind Freud’s scepticism illustrated in his ‘half-conversion’ to Bolshevism: when he was told that communism would bring at first some hard years and then harmony and happiness, he answered that he believed in the first half of this programme.  12  During that period, though, Lacan for the first time added his signature to a petition asking for the liberation of Regis Debray, who was imprisoned in Bolivia, and on 9 May 1968 he signed a manifesto supporting the student movement. On 2 December 1969, however, speaking to hundreds of students he offered them the following statement: ‘Revolutionary aspirations have only one possibility: always to end up in the discourse of the master. Experience has proven this. What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will have one!’ (Lacan in Julien, 1994:64). He moved his seminar to the Faculté de Droit at the Pantheon. In 1973, his first published seminar appeared, edited by Jacques-Alain Miller; it is his seminar of 1964, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.

In 1974, Lacan reorganised the Department of Psychoanalysis at Vincennes and authorised Jacques-Alain Miller to be its chairman. A two-part interview with Lacan was broadcast by French television and, in 1975, he travelled again to the United States, where he gave lectures at Yale, Columbia University and MIT. Five years later his son-in-law was elected to the board of directors of the EFP amid a lot of controversy and accusations of nepotism. As the protest mounted, Lacan decided to dissolve unilaterally the EFP (the dissolution is ratified by the EFP on 27 September 1980). He founded the École de la Cause Freudienne and travelled to Venezuela to open the first international congress of the Fondation du Champ Freudien, which had been founded by himself and his daughter, Judith Miller, in 1979. He died in 1981.